Using the Wayback Machine for Genealogy

Geocities Has Closed

Geoc­i­ties Has Closed

The Way­back Machine, a project of The Inter­net Archive, (cur­rent ver­sion: http://web.archive.org/; new beta ver­sion at http://waybackmachine.org/) is an attempt to archive the com­plete con­tent of the Inter­net. Brew­ster Kahle, the co-founder of the Inter­net Archive spoke about the project at the Sat­ur­day keynote address at Root­sTech 2011.

The key pur­pose of the Inter­net Archive is to make the Inter­net avail­able for future his­to­ri­ans and other researchers, in order that they might know what we were say­ing and doing in this often ephemeral envi­ron­ment called the Internet.

But it can also help us in the here and now. If you ever encounter a pub­licly avail­able site that has dis­ap­peared, you may find it else­where on Google, but, fail­ing that, you may find it in the Inter­net Archive.

For exam­ple, on an old Rootsweb page that I am in the process of migrat­ing to this site, I have a link that is no longer work­ing. (As the lingo goes, I have “link rot”.)

I try to link to:

http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Hollow/1936/index.html

When I try to nav­i­gate to this site, I get a mes­sage saying:

Sorry, the GeoC­i­ties web­site you were try­ing to visit is no longer avail­able.
GeoC­i­ties has closed, but there’s a lot more to explore on Yahoo!”

This does not offer much solace. How­ever, when I go to the Way­back Machine and enter the URL I was search­ing for, I receive the fol­low­ing link:

http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Hollow/1936/index.html

Alter­nately, if I go to the beta ver­sion of the new Way­back Machine and enter this search I get to:

http://waybackmachine.org/*/http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Hollow/1936/index.html

This page shows me the var­i­ous snap­shots the Inter­net Archive got around to mak­ing of this page. When I click on the most recent, I see that it has a link to a new location:

http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pre1800vias/

I can also look at other snap­shots to see what the site looked like at that time.

The Inter­net Archive can­not instan­ta­neously cap­ture the whole Inter­net, but every cou­ple of months, it tra­verses most of the pub­lic web, cap­tures what has changed, and moves on. You should not rely on it, either as a web user, or as a web­mas­ter, how­ever it can prove very handy at times. Try it the next time you run across a link that you are sure used to work, but no longer does.

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